Secret Reprieve powers to victory on home soil at Welsh Grand National
Adam Wedge rides Secret Reprieve to victory in the Welsh Grand national
The Coral Welsh National went to a Welsh-trained winner for the second year in succession when the Evan Williams-trained 5-2 favourite, Secret Reprieve, landed the Chepstow marathon on Saturday 12 months after Potters Corner.
As emotional as the trainer was, however, he dedicated the smooth three-length win to the seven-year-old’s jockey, Adam Wedge who, until that point had endured an awful afternoon – the sporting equivalent of falling under two traction engines and being squashed into the tarmac.
He owed as much to the racecourse doctor as his own iron resolution to keep riding after heavy falls in the second and third races.
Wedge, 31, has ridden so long in South Wales that he is now an adopted Welshman – “Everyone thinks I’m Welsh so I might as well be” he said – but he is originally from Halesowen, presumably from the old iron works which made the place famous for nails.
Although he walked away from his first fall, in the colours he would later carry to victory in the Welsh National, he was very much in the walking wounded category.
“It was lucky I had a ride in the next,” explained the jockey who missed the winning ride on Williams’s Coole Cody in the Paddy Power Chase in November through injury and had no desire to miss another big payday.
“I didn’t get a chance to stiffen up. After the first fall I was questioning myself about whether I should be riding. It’s madness. It’s very up and down but we do it because we love it.”
With his shoulder heavily strapped up, things hardly looked much better when his ride in the fourth race seemed to run away with him in front. But he could not have had a smoother passage than the one he had on Secret Reprieve throughout the three and three quarter mile trip – even when his girth broke going to the last and only an over-girth kept his saddle in place, it did not disturb their rhythm.
Wedge celebrates the Welsh National win
Credit: GETTY IMAGES
A lot of jockeys seemed to endorse the popular view that you cannot win the Welsh National unless you are in the front rank – a tactic which proved partially valid as the two horses which cut out the running, The Two Amigos and Yala Enki, finished second and third.
But it enabled Wedge and his relatively inexperienced mount to take their time in the middle of the pack before moving into eye-catching contention on the home bend.
Wedge then sat still letting The Two Amigos lead him to the third last where he jumped to the front and from whence the outcome never looked in doubt. Indeed three lengths probably did not do his superiority justice.
Williams, who had saddled the second, third and fourth in the race (as he has in the Grand National) before Saturday, described it as a ‘relief’ to have finally have won his ‘National.’
“You have to take a bit of pain in this game,” he said. “This isn’t about Evan Williams – it’s about Adam Wedge. How could he get up and ride? He’s in trouble. He’s a proper man and he was doing 10st 1lb – there was nothing of his saddle.
“He showed toughness beyond toughness. You can have a big chance (in the Welsh National) but it’s irrelevant when there’s 500k of horse lying on top of you. But they patched him up.” Williams bought Secret Reprieve, a terrific stamp of a chaser, as a three-year-old store horse and sold him to William and Angela Rucker, long-time patrons from when he was point-to-point jockey all the way through his training career with horses like the Aintree placed State of Play and Cappa Bleu.
“He’s a young unexposed horse who had sore shins last year,” he said. “How many people would let you run a horse that inexperienced – he was a maiden over fences until winning the trial for the Welsh National by 12 lengths – in a race like that. Last season he was running on three cylinders. But the Ruckers took him home and gave him every chance.
“I’m very proud of the horse and of Adam Wedge. My dad, Rhys, always gave me stick for not winning the Welsh National. He won’t be looking down, he’s down there and he’ll be looking up! He’d have criticised me for something – probably for not getting in the race off 10st instead of 10st 1lbs!!”
He added: “You have wonderful days when no one realises, like winning with a little horse which has been patched up, but this means the world.”
It is not hard to envisage Secret Reprieve one day doing similar to a Grand National field.
“It’s not so much experience, it’s whether they’re good enough,” said Williams. “Why not have a go.”
Williams and the Ruckers may finally have found the horse to get them over the line where it matter, in front, at Aintree.